Tottenham sharp as they hope to end Chelsea’s winning run

Mauricio Pechettino: ‘In the last few games we have scored a lot ... We are excited’

 Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino, without trying to dilute the appeal of a derby, is urging his players, publicly at least, not to get caught up in talk of revenge.  Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino, without trying to dilute the appeal of a derby, is urging his players, publicly at least, not to get caught up in talk of revenge. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

 

Tottenham could hardly look sharper going into Wednesday’s high-stakes duel against Chelsea but they know the match represents a mighty test of their finishing skills and they must pass it if they are to retain hope of ending this season as champions.

Several times in this campaign Mauricio Pochettino has deplored his team’s lack of ruthlessness but during the season of goodwill his players summoned the callousness he demanded, scoring eight goals in two away matches after Christmas on top of the five in the two games before. Spurs’ most dangerous attackers, Harry Kane and Dele Alli, are in their best form.

Now Tottenham must show they have the sangfroid to be merciless against the meanest defence in the Premier League. They cannot afford to be as forgiving as they were at Stamford Bridge in November, when they had Chelsea on the ropes several times but failed to land enough punches to knock them down and were beaten 2-1. A similar result would leave Pochettino’s men 13 points behind Antonio Conte’s side, whereas victory would keep them within striking distance.

“If we review the game from November, we deserved more,” Pochettino said. “We dominated and we created more chances than them but you always need to be more clinical. In the last few games we have scored a lot, so it will be a great game. We are excited.”

Winning run

The excitement is widespread. All the other title chasers yearn for more evidence the leaders are stoppable and no one craves an end to Chelsea’s winning run more than Tottenham fans, even though curtailing it at 13 matches would leave Arsenal as the holders of the record for consecutive Premier League victories. It was Chelsea who quashed Spurs’ lingering title hopes last season by fighting back in a tempestuous battle to gain a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge. And the 2-1 victory for Conte’s side at the same venue this season put paid to Tottenham’s unbeaten start. For Tottenham fans, revenge is a dish best served white-hot.

The atmosphere will enhance the spectacle but make it all the harder for players to keep their heads. That is why Pochettino, without trying to dilute the appeal of a derby, is urging his players, publicly at least, not to get caught up in talk of revenge.

“Always Chelsea and Arsenal are our enemies and it is true for our fans it is a very special game but, as we are professionals, the most important thing is to think about three points,” he said. “It is in our head to win the game and close the gap but not for revenge for last season. That chapter is closed. If we need to blame someone [for last season], we need to blame ourselves – we are the guilty ones that did not achieve the Premier League.”

Sureness in front of goal

Which brings us back to their inconsistent finishing – and jitters. At crucial times last season Spurs’ sureness in front of goal abandoned them, much as their nerve did at Old Trafford three weeks ago. That servile 1-0 defeat by Manchester United is another reason why Tottenham need to beat Chelsea before belief will grow that their recent run could really turn into a title charge.

In addition to the form of Kane and Alli, who between them have scored eight goals in their past three matches and were taken off long before the end of Sunday’s win at Watford in an effort to keep them at peak sharpness for tonight, there are other encouraging pointers for Spurs. Toby Alderweireld was commanding at Watford on his return from a two-week layoff and Danny Rose is in storming form.

Both of those defenders missed the match at Stamford Bridge in November and their availability should make Spurs stronger. Pochettino almost has a full-strength squad from which to choose, with only Érik Lamela injured.

–(Guardian Service)

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